2021 was a monumental year for the NFL. Not only did the National Football League (NFL) make a major announcement during peak pandemic season, it followed another major move with media distribution agreements that provided all-access to NFL games. While the agreement was signed under the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020, the announcement to expand its season structure to 17 regular-season games was made in 2021, providing fans with a full week of extra action. The currently active agreement extends through the 2030 season.
The change marked the first major NLF change in the game’s history since the 1978 campaign, which introduced the 16 regular seasons, with four preseason games.
So, what does the extra game adds to the regular season format? The new 18-week, 17-game format featured teams from opposing conferences who were in the same positions within their division in the previous season.
Despite the covid19 pandemic, the NFL was successful in pulling off the first 17-game regular season in 2021. For the new format, the league’s 32 teams are split into two conferences – the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The 16 teams in each conference are further split into North, South, East, and West divisions, with four teams playing in each division. All teams are now required to play 17 regular-season games, along with one bye week.
While the full schedule release isn’t expected until May, there is a formula that the NFL uses in order to determine the opponents of each of the teams for an upcoming season. If you’re interested, that can be found in the Official NFL Record and Fact Book.
Each of the teams will face their divisional opponents at least twice (apiece) for a total of six divisional games. The teams are also required to play one game each against all of the other teams in their division, the division of the opposing conference, as well as the remaining teams in order of finish.
As always, the 17th opponent is going to rotate each year as the team is within the same position as the opposing conference. It should be pointed out that the conference which hosts will rotate each year. For the current season, the AFC will be hosting the NFC, so the 17-game format is going to look a bit like this;
⦁ NFC West @ AFC South
⦁ NFC South @ AFC East
⦁ NFC North @ AFC North
⦁ NFC East @ AFC West
With the NFL determined to stick with the 17-game schedule in 2023, considering the positive reaction it’s been receiving, fans of the sport wouldn’t be surprised if the league pushes to an 18-game format as well.